Friday, 26 December 2014

After the tsunami: Thai fishing village, ten years on

Ampai with her three children outside the family home on Koh Lanta
© UNICEF Thailand/2014/Jingjai N.
It’s been ten years since the Indian Ocean tsunami hit the Thai island of Koh Lanta on 26 December 2004, but talking about it still brings tears to Ampai’s eyes. “I often cry when I talk about the tsunami,” she says apologetically. “It’s always at the back of my mind, like a scar that doesn’t heal.”

Ampai Madsaron, 42, lives in a poor fishing village which is totally dependent on the ocean and was hit hard by the tsunami. Her home is a wooden hut built on stilts over the sea to allow easy access for the family’s fishing boat. They earn around 1,000 baht ($30 US dollars) for a good day’s catch of fish, squid or crabs.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Families shelter from Typhoon Hagupit

© UNICEF Philippines/2014/Andy Brown
Typhoon Hagupit passed south of Manila, capital of the Philippines, overnight on Monday. Wind and rain brought flood risks for slum communities living near the river. In Barangay Bagong Silangan, Quezon City (part of Metro Manila), an evacuation centre was set up in a covered court on the hillside above a flood plain.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Typhoon Hagupit diary: into the eye of the storm

Carmela, 8, holds her brother Joshua as they wait for Typhoon Hagupit to pass
© UNICEF/UNI175840/Samson
Sunday 7 December – Yesterday I arrived in Manila, the Philippines, a day or two ahead of Typhoon Hagupit (known locally as Ruby). Looking out to sea from UNICEF’s office on the 30th floor of RCBC Plaza, there’s no sign yet of the typhoon. There’s even a narrow band of sunlight on the horizon. But everyone knows that it’s coming.

The typhoon made landfall last night in Dolores, Eastern Samar, on the eastern edge of the Philippines. Although it has weakened from a Category 5 to 3 typhoon, it could still cause major devastation, particularly as it crosses areas still recovering from Typhoon Haiyan last year, or if it hits the densely populated capital Manila (now looking unlikely).

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Papua: long walk to the mummy’s tomb

Tolaka and Lima walk to school for an hour through grasslands and forests
© UNICEF Indonesia/2014/Andy Brown
I was in Papua in March to document the issues facing children in one of the most remote and mountainous regions on Earth. With few roads and no horses, there is only one way for most people to get around – on foot. Children often walk for hours to get to school each day, and we wanted to document that journey.

It was our second day in the highlands of Papua, after arriving and meeting Yumelina the day before (see part one of this blog). We got up at 5am and drove out towards the Baliem valley, which is in the heart of the Cyclops Mountains and had no contact with the outside world until after World War II.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Riders on the storm: protecting child jockeys in Mongolia

Budgarav, 15, was disabled while working as child jockey
© UNICEF Mongolia/2014/Zetty Brake
In a ger tent in Ulziit, horse racing capital of Mongolia, 15-year-old former child jockey Budgarav rests on his crutches and adjusts the baseball cap on his head. Four years ago he was thrown from a horse during training and trampled, losing his front teeth and breaking both his legs. “It was very painful when I fell,” he says.

Budgarav wasn’t wearing any safety equipment and was not insured. His trainer didn’t want to report the injury or take him to hospital. Instead, his legs were bound with camel wool and he was warned not to tell anybody about it. By the time he did get to see a doctor, a month later, his legs and gums had become infected and his condition was much worse.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Talat Phlu to Wongwian Yai

Highlights of a photo walk from Bangkok's Talat Phlu to Wongwian Yai, including Chinese and Muslim communities, canals, temples and life along the train tracks.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Nepal: chariot of the monsoon god

In 2014, I revisited the old Durbar Squares of Kathmandu and Patan, both former royal capitals of Nepal. We arrived in Patan during the chariot festival of monsoon god Red Machhindrana, a ritual that has been performed every year since 1673. We were staying just off Patan square so on the last day I got up at 5:30am and wandered round for a couple of hours before breakfast.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

West of Eden: the unspoilt wilderness of Papua

A construction worker looks out to sea from Jayapura
© Andy Brown/Papua, Indonesia/2014
Along with Mongolia, Papua is one of the most remote places I’ve been with UNICEF. It’s a wild land of impenetrable jungles with deep valleys and high mountains disappearing into a perpetual ceiling of mist and cloud. Outside the towns, people still live a traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle that has remained unchanged for centuries.

I’d previously been to Papua New Guinea, on the east side of the island, but didn’t have much chance to explore. This was mainly because violent is so rampant that you cannot safely walk the streets of Port Moresby, let alone wander off into the hills. I spent most of my time in a fortified office or hotel, or traveling between the two in a sturdy van with ‘UN’ painted on its roof in large blue letters so that it could be easily spotted from the air.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Cambodia: tuk-tuks and temples

The main reason to visit Siem Reap is the nearby temples of Angkor, relics of the vast Khmer Empire that stretched across South East Asia from the 9th to 15th Century AD. It’s something of a modern myth that the temples were subsequently lost in the jungle, and the civilisation that built them forgotten, until they were rediscovered in the 19th Century by French colonial archaeologists.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Cambodia: ancient temples of the Khmer Empire

An early morning view of Angkor Wat, seen just after sunrise
© Andy Brown/Cambodia/2012
Two years ago, my honeymoon blog stalled in Luang Prabang, Laos. I returned to a busy work schedule, but it’s been at the back of my mind ever since to finish the story.

After leaving Luang Prabang, Joyce and I continued our overground trip by bus instead of boat. Our next stop was Vang Vieng, a beautiful riverside town backed by craggy cliffs that was somewhat spoilt by hordes of teenage backpackers getting drunk or high and ‘tubing’ down the river in tractor tyres. There were bars selling ‘happy meals’ laced with cannabis, and ‘super happy meals’ laced with opium. All this would have been fine on a party island like Ibiza, but felt somewhat inappropriate in rural Laos.

Out of town, however, we had great opportunities for mountain biking, kayaking and even a spectacular hot air balloon ride up the valley at sunset. We flew high over the river, then low over fields and villages. Trees cast long shadows and children chased the balloon, waving and shouting ‘sabai dee’ (hello in Lao).

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Sri Lanka: tea and trains

In Sri Lanka, the railroad is not just a track for trains. People build their homes along it, open shops on the sidings, and walk between the rails. We decided to take the train to Ella and visit World’s End, where the central plateau drops suddenly over a thousand metres to the low land below. It was like stepping back in time.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Time machines: travelling on Sri Lanka’s railway

Children greet us at a village on a hike through the mountains of Sri Lanka
© Andy Brown/2013/Sri Lanka
In Sri Lanka, the railroad is not just a track for trains. People build their homes along it, open shops on the sidings, and walk between the rails. This is what I was doing in November - walking along the train tracks to Ella Rock. Together with my friends Rob and Laura, I was on a hike high in the mountains of Sri Lanka’s central plateau. Our guide, Chamal, assured us that the train tracks were the best route. "No need to worry," he said, noting our concern. "If the train comes we'll hear it in plenty of time to get out of the way."

I'd already seen how slow Sri Lanka’s antique trains go - around 15km an hour - so it seemed reasonable enough. If I had to, I could probably outrun one over a short distance. Rob was less convinced. "Have you seen ‘Stand by Me’?" he asked our guide, and described the plot of the movie in which four boys go for an adventure along a railway line, get caught by a train on a bridge, and have to jump off into the river.